I always sit up and take notice when E.D. Hirsch sends out an alarm. He’s the Core Knowledge guru–students need to learn basic knowledge about the world. Let’s call that stuff. It turns out that reading cannot be taught in a vacuum as a series of discrete skills that are supposedly transferable.

It turns out that students who know stuff, can comprehend what they read better. Students who don’t, can’t comprehend the material before them–even if they can decode and have phonemic awareness. Isn’t that plain as day? So obvious? Why has that been so hard to explain to a generation of educators? In math, too, students who don’t know number facts (even if they have a calculator) are way behind. They are missing the basic building blocks of knowledge. Stuff. Obvious again.

(E.D. Hirsch on standards).

Too often, special education, as well, focuses on skills in isolation. Decoding, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, etc. With all the focus on skills, too often, these students are not exposed to a rich curriculum and learning stuff. So, E.D. Hirsch’s warnings apply to students with disabilities as well. We need to teach stuff as well as skills. One without the other is unsatisfying. And it doesn’t work well.

About Miriam

Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, JD, MA—an expert in public education, focused on special education law— is a lawyer, author, speaker, consultant, and reformer. For more than 35 years, Miriam worked with educators, parents, policy makers, and citizens to translate complex legalese into plain English and focus on good practices for children. Now, she focuses her passion on reforming special education, with her new book, Special Education 2.0—Breaking Taboos to Build a NEW Education Law. Presentations include those at the AASA Conference, Orange County (CA), Boston College (MA), CADRE (OR), and the Fordham Institute (DC). Her writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Education Week, Education Next, Hoover Digest, The University of Chicago Law Review on line, DianeRavitch.net, and The Atlantic Monthly on line.

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